How to Create Structure for Your Job Search, with Emily Wong

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It can seem like the most natural thing to do; you want a job, so you dive into the deep end and spend 40+ hours a week on your search. Why is that a bad idea? Find Your Dream Job guest Emily Wong says you don’t need to pile additional stress on top of a full-time job. Treat your search like a project; devote a certain number of hours a week to it, and assign specific tasks to those hours. Emily also suggests batching similar tasks to get through them quicker. And above all, allow yourself to experiment with what works best. There is no failure; only tweaking your approach until you find the perfect method for you.

About Our Guest:

Emily Wong is a resume writer, a career coach, and the founder of  Words of Distinction. Emily’s company helps you land an interview through powerful career storytelling. She also hosts  the Career Cohort podcast.

Resources in This Episode:


Find Your Dream Job, Episode 363:

How to Create Structure for Your Job Search, with Emily Wong

Airdate: August 31, 2022

Mac Prichard:

This is Find Your Dream Job, the podcast that helps you get hired, have the career you want, and make a difference in life. 

I’m your host, Mac Prichard. I’m also the founder of Mac’s List. It’s a job board in the Pacific Northwest that helps you find a fulfilling career.

Every Wednesday, I talk to a different expert about the tools you need to get the work you want.

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It’s easy to get overwhelmed by a job search. 

You’ll have more success, says today’s guests, if you treat your search like a project, not a full-time job, and break your work into manageable segments. 

Emily Wong is here to talk about how to create a structure for your job search. 

She’s a resume writer, a career coach, and the founder of Words of Distinction. Emily’s company helps you land an interview through powerful career storytelling.

She also hosts the terrific Career Cohort podcast.

Emily joins us from the San Francisco Bay area. 

Well, let’s get started, Emily. Why is it important to have a structure for your job search? 

Emily Wong:

I would say that we are taught early on, and I remember way back when I was starting my career in, you know, I was in college, and people were giving this advice to treat your job search as a full-time job. And if we think about that, that can be really daunting. 

Why? Because if we have a full-time job, we’re working already forty-plus hours a week. Right? And in that, I’m being conservative because most full-time jobs are more than forty hours a week. And if we pile on another hypothetical, of course, forty hours for your job search, that’s really daunting, and it’s also nebulous because it’s just, okay, another job search. What does that mean? How do I break that down? 

And even if you are volunteering and, you know, you’re not getting that paycheck, but you’re volunteering, you’re on a board, or you have a major role in a volunteer organization, or you’re going back to school, those things take time, and those things are important. Those endeavors are really important to advancing your career. So, to then say, there’s this other full-time job on top of that, again, it’s a little bit too much to handle, I think, mentally. 

So what I propose is that when you’re going to take on this new endeavor of your job search that, you instead think of it as a project, and you can put an end date on there. But also just as important is that start date, and then you fill in the elements of what’s gonna make up that project. Like any other project you’re gonna do, whether it’s your new kitchen or your project that you’re working on for the PTA. 

Mac Prichard:

And how does that help you with your search? Treating it like a project, not like a full-time job. What benefits do you see come to job-seekers who take that approach? 

Emily Wong:

Well, I think I’m gonna start with the, I have five pillars of an approach, and that first pillar is that you put it on your calendar with a start date. A firm start date. And it becomes intentional. 

So if you’re like me, if you were to say, okay, I’m gonna have a job in three months, or I’m gonna have a job in six months. Fine, you have that out there. 

But if you’re like me and you don’t put that first date or that first block of time on your schedule, that time is gonna get filled by something else. It could be a quote-unquote urgent email, or it could be some extra volunteer thing that you signed up for with the PTA that you don’t need to be doing right now. Right? But if you have it on your calendar, you’re going to be more intentional. And the other thing is deciding, okay, within your week, then you lay out that workflow cadence. 

So, you know, we’ve heard about the lark and the owl. So some people have more energy in the morning, and some people have more energy at night. What is that ideal time to be working on this project? And so, I work well in the mornings. 

So, an example of how I would structure it would be maybe I say, Monday morning from eight to ten o’clock, I’m gonna work on my research of companies. On Tuesday, from eight to ten, I’ll do the same thing, and maybe I do that for every weekday. Right? If that’s not gonna work for me, I could still say maybe every other day. So schedule Monday eight o’clock to eleven-thirty, Wednesday the same, and then Friday the same. 

Now, I would not recommend interrupting those days with more than one day. So, if it’s every other day, keep it at that. But I wouldn’t say skip two days because you want to have that momentum, and you want that steam to keep your momentum going for your job search. So, if it’s every other day, keep it at that. 

Mac Prichard:

Okay, let’s step back there for a moment, Emilly. So you put it on your calendar; that’s pillar number one, and you also encourage listeners to pick an end date and work back from that date and set aside a certain number of hours in the course of a week. 

How do you recommend, in your work with clients, that they choose that end date? What is the best way to know that it’s gonna take three, six, or nine months? 

And then secondly, how do you figure out how many hours in the course of a week, whether you’re employed full-time or perhaps between positions to devote to your job search? What’s your best advice there on those two points? 

Emily Wong:

That’s such a great question, Mac. I would say as far as that long-term goal, there are a number of things that could play into that. One is, do I want to stay at this job for one more year? For example, but I want to be prepared if someone calls me. So that could determine what that timeline is. 

If you have a sense of urgency, then you tighten that up, and then during the week, when you’re breaking that schedule down, you’re gonna have to play around with it a bit, and I would say if you’re feeling a little overwhelmed, you can start with a half-hour on Monday, and put that  schedule- by the way, put that schedule on Sunday night if that’s possible because then you have all that scheduled out for you during the week- and you’re going to want to tweak that. 

So if you find that, okay, a half-hour is not enough time, but I’m getting into this, my momentum is picking up; I’m gonna expand that to two hours or three hours. And again, you experiment along the way. 

Mac Prichard:

And what about somebody who is between positions? How many hours in a typical week would you recommend that someone spend on a job search if they’re not doing it forty-plus hours? What should they do? 

Emily Wong:

I would say, if possible, three hours a day would be ideal. And I want to say that I am a parent of two college students. I’ve been a parent of young children, but I’ve never been a parent of young children in the age of COVID. So I understand that some things need to move around. Maybe you move your time to the evening. But you will figure out what that cadence is as you’re working on those projects. 

Mac Prichard:

And why three hours a day? Why not five? Or clearly, if it’s not a full-time job, it’s a project. Eight isn’t the right number. But what makes three a good recommended number? 

Emily Wong:

I think three is because it’s manageable for your mindset. I think, you know, and when I say three, by the way, I’m saying an hour getting up to stretch, go for a walk. Another hour, take a break. Another hour, take a break. I think that the other thing that you’re gonna be working on is those volunteer hours. You need to upskill, you need to maintain your skills, so that you are attractive to the next employer, and skills are changing all the time. Requirements are changing all the time. So you really want to stay on top of that. 

On the other side of that, the three hours is ideal because once you get into that flow, you might find that you’re actually really enjoying this. So if you’re doing job search, I’m sorry, company research, you’re going to find that, hey, I’m getting into this. I’m gonna continue and then keep working on it. 

And I’m not saying that it only has to be three either. You can, if you’re into it, expand it. Expand it for that day, and then you can have a shorter period the next day. 

Mac Prichard:

Terrific. Well, we’re gonna take a break, Emily. When we come back, Emily Wong will continue to share her advice on how to create structure for your job search. Stay with us. 

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Now, let’s get back to the show.

We’re back in the Mac’s List studio. I’m talking with Emily Wong.

She’s a resume writer, a career coach, and the founder of Words of Distinction. 

Emily’s company helps you land an interview through powerful career storytelling.

She also hosts the Career Cohort podcast.

Emily joins us from the San Francisco Bay area. 

Emily, before the break, we were talking about how to create structure for your job search, and you have a set of pillars that you take your clients through for creating structure. And you mentioned the first one, which was about putting the search on your calendar, and treating it like a project, and picking an end date, and setting aside a certain amount of time every day for job search. 

Now, your second pillar for creating structure for your search is to have a budget. What kind of budget do you have in mind here, Emily? Are we talking about time or money? What do you have in mind? 

Emily Wong:

Well, first of all, I’d say that it should be a guilt-free budget. One of the things that I have found even in my own business is setting up your budget before you start your project. I mean, you would do this for any other major endeavor. Correct? 

I mean, if you’re building your bathroom or kitchen or whatever that might be, and the same applies to your job search. And the reason I recommend that you do it upfront is that you want to, kind of, get your head around what those expenses are going to be because there will be some expenses, and depending on who you are and what you need, there will be a range. 

The other thing is that you don’t want to have to make that decision about what you’re going to pay for in the moment. So, if you know in advance, my monthly budget is going to be this, and you discuss it with your partner- by the way, I do discuss that with my husband because we make financial decisions together- and if you make that decision with that person, you don’t come across an expense later and say, oh my goodness. Is this gonna be okay? 

And especially when we’re in job search mode, and we don’t have a job, we can feel like we’re not deserving of having that budget, and if we want to be, you know, feel fabulous when we’re going to those interviews, or we’re presenting our resume. We deserve to feel fabulous. Right? So that is my suggestion there. It’s to get that budget laid out really early on in your project. 

Mac Prichard:

What are typical expenses that you see your clients incur in a job search? What kind of costs are we talking about? 

Emily Wong:

Well, the low-hanging items are, of course, your haircut, your attire for your interviews, even if you’re going to be online for your interview. It just feels good to have that fresh clothing or have your hair cut and be ready for that interview. 

The other expenses could be gift cards for people who are helping you along. Right? The people you call in your networking circle, who give you time, maybe ten minutes of their time, or a half hour of their time. It’s always nice to follow up with a gift card. I do that all the time when someone helps me out. 

The other thing that you might spend money on is a networking lunch, or an in-person coffee, or if you need help with a coach, or if you need help with your resume. These are all things that could creep up. So if you, kind of, think about those in advance, it’s helpful. 

Mac Prichard:

Your third pillar for creating structure in a job search is to break your search into manageable segments. How does this help you, Emily? 

Emily Wong:

So this is something that I’ve learned from my own experience. Again, going back to that feeling of, you know, my job search is so big, and it’s so nebulous, and when you think about it, it can be a little bit overwhelming. 

So, what I do in my own projects and what I recommend to my clients to do is break it down into the smallest part or segment that makes sense. So if you take it down to that level, it doesn’t feel so overwhelming. 

And here’s an example: you might say, write my About section for LinkedIn. Well, that’s twenty-six hundred characters. So just saying, write my About section might even sound daunting. 

So if you take that down to the next level, you could say, collect, or come up with four pillars of my success. The four pillars that make me successful in my career. And so, you work on that part, and you write that into your block on your calendar that that’s what you’re gonna work on. 

Or you say, I’m going to work on my branding statement at the top of my resume, and then you put that in, rather than say “write my resume” because that can sound very big in the moment. 

Yeah, and then there are other areas. Maybe you feel a little bit overwhelmed about your cover letter, but maybe you get your cover letter written as a template, and there’s certain elements of your cover letter that you can reuse. Maybe the closing statement won’t require a lot of changes. 

So you say, okay, I’m gonna write my cover letter template. And from there, then you can write the next day you can say, write cover letter for company A, write cover letter for company B, and then you have this kind of this momentum that you’re building on. And then you’re obviously, then you’re gonna tailor for each company. 

Mac Prichard:

What stops job seekers from breaking their search into manageable segments? And how do you see people overcome that barrier? 

Emily Wong:

I think that we tend to schedule things on our schedule as the big item, and if you look at it that way, that can be very challenging, and it’s hard to step through that because you’re not sure exactly what that item is. So if you’re thinking too big, it’s going to be more difficult. But if you break it down into a smaller element, and you use an action verb, you’re gonna find that it’s easier to take on that task. 

Again, going back to that analogy of, you know, working on a house project, you would write down, get bids from, you know, such and such construction company. Right? You would list that, or you would put that onto your calendar, and that doesn’t seem so daunting when it’s written that way, or you’re looking at it that way. 

Mac Prichard:

The fourth pillar on your list of five pillars for creating structure for your job search is to batch projects. What do you mean by batching, Emily? 

Emily Wong:

Well, if you batch your projects or you batch your mini-projects, you’re going to save time, and the reason is, is that if you line things up and you sit down, and you say, for example, I’m going to research companies within this three-hour block, and you get in that mode of research. Your mind is set on that research mode. So that when you’re transitioning from one job, say from job A to, or from company A to company B, it’s not much of a transition. 

The same thing with cover letters, as I was just talking about. If you write that template, and then you write another cover letter for company A, and then you write another cover letter for company B, you will have to edit those. But you’re still in that cover letter mode.

Another example could be where you’re trying to build your network on LinkedIn, and you write a note, and by the way, always write a personal note on LinkedIn when you’re connecting with somebody. You don’t want to use that default message. 

But then you, if you do that, compared to the other way of managing your tasks which would be, for example, answering an email and then writing your cover letter, and then making a networking call; those require transition time and much more transition time than if you were batching your mini-projects. 

Mac Prichard:

The fifth and final pillar of your five pillars for creating structure for your job search is to keep a journal of your achievements and your challenges. Why is this a good idea? 

Emily Wong:

Well, you know, career stories are so important because they’re gonna come up in your about section, they come up in your cover letter, in your resume to some extent, in your interviews, and you want to have that collection of stories, and if you’re just beginning your project, it may require that you go back. This may require a couple of hours. Right? Because you might need to find your performance reviews and pull that information up. 

And so, you pull that information up. You collect that information, maybe put just in a Google Doc. Collect that, and then, as you move forward on a daily basis, you keep track of your achievements and make them measurable. You want a data point. For example, if you’re improving increasing revenue, you don’t want to just say, I increased revenue significantly. You want to say I increased revenue by more than twenty-five percent every year. Right? So you want to have that information. 

And then, the other thing is you also want to keep track of your challenges or your struggles. Because there are two reasons: one is you want to learn from those. And the other reason is that the interviewer’s always gonna ask that question, what kind of struggle have you had? And how did you deal with it? And it’s not so much the struggle they care about. They really care about how you solved that problem. 

So you want to have that collection of both your achievements and your struggles and how you overcame them. And as you do this on a daily basis, it’s gonna take you much less time, and what a fun way to end your day, by keeping that diary. Maybe it takes you fifteen minutes to write down something that you achieved. But you do that, and you’re gonna be much more prepared for your resume when you actually have to deliver it. 

Mac Prichard:

Well, it’s been a terrific conversation, Emily. Now, tell us, what’s next for you? 

Emily Wong:

Well, I’d love to connect with anybody who’s interested, and if you do connect on LinkedIn, please share if you heard me talking to Mac in this podcast. You can connect with me on LinkedIn, so it’s emilysf, as in San Francisco, Wong on LinkedIn. You can follow me on Twitter. It’s @careersemily. You can also follow me on and sign up for my newsletter there. And I’m also giving a free outline of these five pillars to help you with your job search project, and that’s at 

Mac Prichard:

Terrific. We’ll be sure to include those links in the show notes as well as on our website article. 

Now, Emily, given all the great advice you’ve shared today, what’s the one thing you want a listener to remember about how to create structure for your job search?

Emily Wong:

I would say that as you’re building this structure, allow yourself to make little tweaks and adjustments and see what works best for you. One of my writing mentors, Anne Janzer, once said, “Treat whatever it is you’re working on as an experiment, and continue to tweak.” And that also applies to your job, Your experiences in your job, and, you know, as you go through your job search and you’re talking to people, and you’re interviewing, treat everything you do as an experiment. And, you know, if you run into a challenge, you can call that experiment had a little bit of a setback. But you’re not talking about yourself as failing. It’s more of that experiment. And I just think that’s wonderful advice. 

Mac Prichard:

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Next week, our guest will be Omar Garriott.

He’s the global head of education for Qualtrics and the co-author of the new book, Linked: Conquer LinkedIn. Get Your Dream Job. Own Your Future. 

Omar has also worked as a university career coach and advised students ranging from high schoolers to executive MBAs. 

Many professionals think of LinkedIn as a landing page for your resume. 

If this sounds like you, Omar says that you are missing out on opportunities to use LinkedIn to make your job search easier and faster.

Join us next Wednesday when Omar Garriott and I talk about how to unleash the power of LinkedIn. 

Until next time, thanks for letting us help you find your dream job.

This show is produced by Mac’s List. 

Susan Thornton-Hough schedules our guests and writes our newsletter. Lisa Kislingbury Anderson manages our social media.

Our sound engineer is Matt Fiorillo. Ryan Morrison at Podfly Productions edits the show. Dawn Mole creates our transcripts. And our music is by Freddy Trujillo.

This is Mac Prichard. See you next week.